Homefront Is An Emotional Shooter That Doesn't Quite Deliver

I nearly wept during the opening of Homefront.

Maybe it was the father in me, maybe just that I'm human, but those opening moments, so cleverly crafted to grab a hold of you and pull, succeeded on a level few games have before with me.

Homefront depicts a United States, a Colorado, ghettoised by an invading unified Korean force. It brings together all of the atrocities of World War II and places them in a modern, painfully familiar setting. It's smart enough to know, though, that a country suffering is not nearly as powerful as a single child's torment.

Emotionally charged, with a fiction close to reality, Homefront drops you in control of a former Marine helicopter pilot drafted by the invading force, and then plucked up by the resistance to make things right.

Why You Should Care

First-person shooters, in their hunt for more realism, more weapons, more settings, could arguably be, at times, accused of glorifying war. Everything about Homefront seems to be promising the exact opposite. The United States are the underdogs here. You fight through internment camps, Hooters, suburbs and the plains of the mid-west. You fight not to help another country, but to defend your own. This could be an emotional, meaningful shooter.

What We Liked

Backstory: The first thing you see when you turn on Homefront is reality. A press conference with Hillary Clinton talking about the very real sinking of a South Korean submarine by North Koreans. That segues into a stark mix of reality and fiction that paints a unsettling picture of our near future. There is no alien menace here, no super soldiers, just a not-too-unlikely future, one created by the collapse of the US economy, the fall of Japan, a North American plague and the rise of a newly unified Korea. Homefront's fictional threat is a collection of the things we see today, fear today, only much, much worse. This created near-reality future helps to lay the groundwork for an experience that is at times emotionally draining, unsettling and almost too close to home.

Poignant Opening: The mixed-reality newsreel that opens the game drops you into the shoes of a former Marine helicopter pilot two years after the Korean occupation of about half of the United States. You wake to pounding on the door in the shambles of a room, one wall made of tarp, a bed tented with an old blanket, a radio telling you you're in Montrose, Colorado. Drafted into the Korean army, you take a forced bus ride through the small town, which quickly becomes a tableau of the horrors of this new war. It is purely a performance meant to grab you emotionally. You can only watch as your creep through the town and see men marched at gunpoint to summary executions in the street, couples separated, a mother begging her small child not to watch, not to think about it, up until the gunshot and the crying. Once you have control, and a gun, you have plenty of reason to play through the game.

Emotional Hooks: Homefront's evocative gameplay doesn't stop with that surreal opening and the emotional first scenes of the game. Throughout the relatively short first-person shooter there are moments meant to anger, engross and repulse gamers. You will find yourself watching soldiers engulfed in flame, clawing at themselves as they stumble toward you. You will bury yourself in the dead of a mass grave. You will grimace at the gallows humor of fellow soldiers. At times it's too heavy-handed, but it never stops being effective.

Bot Tank: You don't to use it much, but I loved having control of the automated tank called Goliath. The squat armoured six-wheel vehicle has a .50-calibre machine gun and four mortar launchers. Instead of changing your perspective when you take control of the vehicle, you have to sort of wing it from whatever vantage point you happen to have. Great fun, and a neat twist to the sometimes too-ordinary ground warfare.

The Missions, The Settings, The Gameplay: This isn't Call of Duty or Medal of honour or Battlefield. You play as a reluctant soldier fighting alongside militia, survivalists and suburbanites with guns. Your battlefield is the local White Castle, neighbourhoods and a TigersDirect retail store. Your objectives are mostly to survive and make sure you keep as many frightened, oppressed Coloradans safe as possible. None of this impacts the mechanics of a first-person shooter, but it does change your tactics and most certainly your perspective.

Multiplayer Tweaks: While the multiplayer of Homefront isn't nearly as heavy handed and differentiating as the story-driven elements of the game, it still has some neat little tweaks. Killing enemies and taking objectives gives you battle points, which can then be used to get predetermined items mid-battle, like a flak jacket, drone or rocket launcher. You can also use points at your respawn screen to purchase vehicles. It's a bit like a blending of Call of Duty perks and Battlefield with Counter-Strike's weapon purchasing.

What We Didn't Like

No Reinvention I love first-person shooters, so I quite enjoyed this one. But there are gamers who have started to grow sick of things like trigger points, gameplay forced down a narrow path and the constant trudge of inching forward under fire to capture an objective. Homefront does a lot to change the perspective on war, but it does nothing to change the mechanics of first-person shooter gameplay. If you're not fans of a singular, singleplayer experience that forces you down a pre-determined path, this game isn't for you. If you like shooters, than I'd say it's worth a play.

Short: First-person shooters continue to tinker with the breadth and length of their single-player campaigns. Six to eight seems about right to me, if you have a robust multiplayer with multiple modes and maps. This is sub six hours, which seemed a bit too short, especially given the rich subject matter and abrupt ending.

Flat Ending: Oh, so much potential, so many possibilities, so squandered. It isn't just that Homefront's ending seems to run straight into a brick wall. There is so much still to do, just in the sense of freeing the United States from its oppressors. The real missed opportunity, though, is that emotionally, the game never balances out. All of those horrors, all of that set-up never comes to any sort of climax, good or bad. It's like they cut the story in half with eyes toward a quick-turn-around sequel. Bad call.

WARNING THIS VIDEO CONTAINS SPOILERS

The Bottom Line

Homefront is a game too rich in potential and backstory, too ripe with emotion for its own good. No game could have lived up to the months of pre-release marketing stunts and intrigue. Homefront's powerful opening minutes prepare gamers for an emotional shooter, an experience that is never fully realised. That doesn't make it a bad game. Its setting and humanizing goals are a powerful message about the very real face of modern war. Turning the tables, and making the US the underdogs is a smart way to perhaps put people in the shoes of their enemies. Its mechanics and multiplayer are workable and enjoyable. But somewhere along the freedom fighters' journey from an oppressive Colorado, to that game's climactic battle, Homefront loses its way and its message.

Homefront was developed by Kaos Studios and published by THQ for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, released on March 15. Retails for $US59.99/$A109.95. A copy of the PC and PS3 versions of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the single player on PC and the first chapter on the PS3. Played multiple multiplayer rounds on the PS3 and PC.


Comments

    ... 4 Hours long.

    $25 an hour.

    So glad I waited for the user reviews before buying this, which is what I'll do when it hits the bargain bin.

    Fps games are dead to me until Duke Nukem Forever hits.
    Homefront always looked generic in my eyes, so glad im not a sucker for hype these days (especially fps titles)

    Sub 6 hour campaign with a flat ending... I knew this would just turn out to be the same same modern shooters that have been flooding the market for 10 years.

    I'm yet to play one THQ game on any platform that is above mediocre.

    Homefront definitely looked promising and original, oh well.. Might still give it a go.. When it's in the $10 box.

    I think I am actually going to play this. I want to know what a bog-standard FPS mechanic game married up with a relatively unusual fiction/story actually feels like.

    I think its interesting that we DEMAND new mechanics in ever title in games, which we certainly do not do in any other medium. I mean, films essentially 'work' the same way most of the time. Think about the dramatic difference between any old action film and something like Fight Club or even better, Memento. We don't often ask to change the mechanics of our media, except in games. Partly because the mechanics are the 'message' in games, for sure. But also I think to make up for the shitty stories we try to tell.

    I pre ordered it on steam and the viewpoint I have now is that I paid for metro2033, and got this game free...

    The best THQ game I've played so far is Metro 2033. The graphics aren't as good and the gameplay isn't as nice, but the story and invironments and settings you walk around in more than make up for it.

    Just letting y'all know, this is a fucking great game. Multiplayer is quite awesome, and the single player, while stunted, is still great.

    I have no idea how people could finish the game in 4 hours unless they already knew exactly where everything is and thats hardly a fair measurement, after all you can finish fallout 1 in 20 minutes if you know how. Homefront took me 6-7 hours, still shorter than I'd like but I enjoyed the hell out of it.

    For me the game is the equal of COD in gameplay but vastly better in the story. The ending was a little flat but the whole point was that you weren't supposed to win the war, you were helping to win one battle. I'd have liked to have had the chance to shoot the officer who you meet at the start but since they said from the outset that they want to make homefront a series, I'm happy waiting. Well not HAPPY...

    Dam I only played through the intro last night, which was intense, but I was really hoping for a bit more then 4-6 hours. Thats pathetic! 7 day return I think

    It's not a four hour game!! Chumps who blaze through it on easy may finish it in four hours. Just up the difficulty and it will take 7 hours (still relatively short).

    Oh shit I forgot this was out today.

    It looks incredibly lame, going by the sample video. Either that or the player had it set on So Easy You Don't Need To Turn The Monitor On To Play.
    Watching the AI run directly over a grenade, and then take no damage. Enemy AI you can openly walk up to and then mow down with a couple of shots ? Lame. Even Half Life 1 AI was better than this.

    I wouldn't even bother with bargain bin version of this game.

    Another game that has failed to live up to it's own hype.

    not on my games list, its the same old sh*t. Just different set up and graphics.

    just letting you guys know that most stores wont do seven day trials on this because of the online multiplayer codes that come with it.

    Am I the only one who thought that the marketing campaign was over-saturated with American patriotism? I wouldn't care at all if Homefront absolutely tanked in Australia, Europe and Aisa. Hopefully it'll let publishers realise that not everyone wants to hear about America's conflicts constantly.

      Its a game about America being invaded....made by a developer based in New York....

      What did you think the marketing was going to be saturated with? European Patriotism? Asian Patriotism? The marketing for this fit the game and the tone of the game, being somewhat of a "Second American Revolution" and all that....the market was better than the actual campaign really.

      The beginning of the campaign was actually quite good I thought....and at act 5 it completely when to shit.

      Once again Kaos deliver an alternate reality that offers so much promise and could be a deep and emotional experience that had impact....but they deliver an SP campaign that is merely there to justify the existence of the Multiplayer which they've obvioulsy put all their energy into...

      Its Frontlines: Fuel of War all over again, that was another MP based game that had a lot of promise...but was just short and lacklustre.

      Still....I'll give the MP a chance.

    Personally I found the MP for Homefront great. Far better than other recent games.

    The single player was well done, but short. It did fall a little flat in the end. Felt like it needed another hour to finish a few plot points.

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